Saturday, July 23, 2011

New Website!

I haven't been posting anything for the past week or so because I have been hard at work building my new website.  Writing multiple 5-7 page articles, formatting and editing them in HTML, and then uploading and fine-tuning them takes a lot of time.

Here it is: 

This blog is still linked there, and they are meant to be a pair.  The blog is for updates and new information, the website is more for long term book-like information and to sell stuff.

Right now, the bees aren't doing much.  I've downsized the home yard as I came to realize just how many too many bees I had here at home.  I've already moved four out and am getting ready to move another four as soon as the arrangements can be made.  I'm going to limit the home yard to about 9 plus a few nucs.  This seems to be a particularly dry year, though we got 0.11" rain yesterday, it doesn't make much difference.  You can see how dry the grass is in the picture above.  It's kind of amazing if you scroll down and see the pictures of how green it was a few short months ago.  I haven't had to mow but three or four times this whole year.

I just went for a walk and discovered about the only thing of any substance blooming right now.

The bull thistles are out and the black swallowtails with their long proboscises are well suited for them.  See if you can count the butterflies.  I saw some bees on there too, but they have to work a little harder.

Please leave comments, I enjoy constructive feedback and questions.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My First Outyard

Yesterday, I moved my first hives away from the home yard.  Here's what the yard looked like mid-move.

I started by designing and building a pallet to hold my hives.  I used the design of my bottom boards and my ten frame deep nucs as a center piece.

The result is a very sturdy and strong pallet of which two fit in the back of my pickup.

And here's the result in the field. 

The hives went to my church's farm, called "The Farm" which provides food to subscription holders and those subscriptions also pay for food for the economically disadvantaged.  So, I'm essentially treating it like a free pollination job.

I've discovered that the flat dark green paint I used to paint those boxes makes the hives way too hot, so I've begun switching them out.  While this is probably only a problem this time of year when it has been over 105 just about every day at my home for the past two weeks, I don't want to put the bees at a big disadvantage.

To Do:  Need to repaint the green hives. 

Thinking about making a slow switch to medium boxes.  I have 68 deeps which is the equivalent of approximately 100 mediums.  If I start selling nucs, it will be easy to sell anything away, and replace deeps with mediums in the process.  I don't need to get rid of the boxes, they can be trimmed, but it is a little harder to trim the frames, especially those with good comb still in them.  I think it can be done pretty well in a progressive fashion, as I sell 5-frame nucs.  All I need to do is sell two nucs, trim one box, buy eleven new frames.  Eventually I'll have nothing but mediums left.  But that means I'll have to sell about 130 nucs.  Could take a few years.

Also, learning about how to do combs.  As I now trim all new end bars to 1 1/4", I can fit eleven frames to a box.  So I do that for three deeps or five mediums, then above that place nine frames to a box for honey storage.  I'm also probably going to switch to Michael Bush's frame system where he uses mostly PF-120's and the rest foundationless.  The only difference is, I trim the endbars, which was his idea, but with is volume he hasn't taken the time to do it on all the plastic frames.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Worst Robbing I've Ever Heard Of

My biggest, most prolific hive, which is the mother to about four or five others got robbed the other week.  I'm not sure why.  I have never seen robbing on this scale.  I have never seen a strong hive get robbed.

Every drop of honey was robbed from this hive, I don't know how much, I hadn't checked this hive in a few weeks, but there was probably plenty.  After the robbing was done, after the bees gave up and left, I dismantled the hive, removing the top three boxes and placed a frame of honey in to avoid starvation.  The population of the hive had been reduced drastically.  There was a pile of dead bees in front of it more than an inch thick.

One of the changes I'm making due to this occurrence is to begin to place bees in outyards.  I'm developing a custom pallet in order to have four hive units that can be moved to other places.  The first one I have lined up is my church's farm where they need a little pollination.  It's also where I hope to sell nucs retail style in the future.  I'm going to try to limit my home yard to ten hives.  If all works well, perhaps I can move beyond sixteen total hives in the future.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Visit to Bush Farms

This past week, (the last week of June 2011) I went to visit the Michael Bush, a beekeeper of some renown among the online beekeeping forums.  If you read my blog here, you’ve seen me quote him and link to his website on quite a number of occasions.

It was an excellent opportunity to see how another beekeeper works and to experience the methods he has written about first hand.  I thought I’d explore them and discuss some pros and cons for an up close view of his methods.  Like many beekeepers familiar with Mr. Bush’s work, I was one who had read his website, viewed his pictures, and pondered his results, but had never seen them in person.  Now having seen them in person, I can more accurately decide which of his ideas to try and to weigh the options in a more enlightened fashion.

First, I’d like to discuss Mike’s use of eight frame mediums almost exclusively for all his normal hives.  His standard configuration is eight frames of PF-120 (Mann Lake Ltd.) and a single frame of Perma-comb.  This results in a box in which there is no space for the frames to move around and everything fits near perfectly.  Also with the PF-120’s are foundationless frames but they’re not quite as numerous.

The first thing that struck me about this method is the way the hive is setup in units.  In my hives with ten frame deeps, a frame is a unit.  In Mike’s hives, a box is a unit.  Therefore, his walkaway splitting technique is to make two bottom boards empty and deal the boxes from a hive back and forth on those two bottom boards.  So each hive now consists of every other box from the original hive.  To make up the size, he places a few empties on the bottom, or sometimes on the top.  With this method, one doesn’t look at the individual frames, nor does one need to.  I had to have a look just for funsies, but it wasn’t necessary.  I doubt splitting has ever been faster.

The PF-120’s contribute fantastically to Mr. Bush’s method.  His method requires far less work than the standard beekeeping method.  There is no frame wiring or foundation installing.  If a hive has died and sat around for years getting full of wax moths, all you need to do is pull the frame out, and peel off the layer of webs.  It’s almost exactly like removing the lint from the lint trap in your clothes dryer.  The foundationless frames are just as easy.  The Perma-comb frames need almost no care at all.  Put it back together, and the box-unit is good to go.

Mike also has a couple of top bar hives of which one was in operation when I was there.  It has a beautiful and prolific Carniolan queen heading it up, and the hive was beautiful.  Here’s a picture of me finding the queen.
 And here she is.

Mr. Bush has also experimented with just about every other standard and nonstandard equipment style there is and he has plenty of scraps of old hives and equipment to prove it.  I saw a Dadant-deep style hive in person for the first time, as well as such others as 12 frame deeps, observation hives, several types of pollen traps, long hives of 40 frames or more, nucs from 2-10 frames, and everything I’ve ever read about on his website.

So, after trying Mike’s 8 frame deep system, I have a few criticisms from my perspective.  Firstly, an 8 frame hive must be stacked especially tall for higher honey production.  Mike can’t do this, nor can I due to high winds, especially for him.  But his focus is not honey production, it’s queen production, so it works very well.  I do like the way a box is a unit that doesn’t need to be messed with, but I prefer the ten frame style for the stacking ability.  Also, since the frames are packed in pretty tight, it’s hard to pull them out without rolling a bunch of bees.  Again, this works well for him but not for me.
One other downside is the cost.  Medium boxes and frames cost only slightly less than deeps, and the same goes for 8 frame.  All the same cuts need to be made on each piece of woodenware and only slightly less wood is used, so there is no cost benefit, and in fact, the reverse is most often true.  For a certain amount of money, you get more square inches of comb with a ten frame deep hive than pretty much any other configuration.  
I am considering eventually making the switch to ten frame mediums.  I like them because they are lighter, and because splits can be made without concern for where the queen is.  Mike was even so gracious as to let me borrow some ten frame plastic mediums and frames to try out.  Someone gave them to him to evaluate, but since he doesn’t use ten frame equipment, he hasn’t yet.  So, I’m going to try them out and build some wooden ones and see how it works.  If I like them better, I’ll switch.  I don’t enjoy lifting or carrying deeps full of honey, and my extractor only holds 9 deeps but 18 mediums.  Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that mediums extract much better than deeps and blow out less.  I also think they’ll have fewer problems with foundation buckling.

Overall, his system is perfect for what he’s doing.  The rapidity with which his out yards can be processed is amazing.  The heaviest boxes don’t require straining to move.  Splitting is straightforward and speedy.  When I convert, it will be far easier to convert from deeps to mediums than it will be to convert from 10 frame to 8 frame.  Furthermore, I really think ten frame is what is right for me, and that’s what each beekeeper needs to decide for themselves.  What is right for you?  Spend the time doing the research and figure out exactly what you want and need.  My advice for all is to never get your bees in the same year you decide to become a beekeeper.  I think I need a separate post for ‘how to start beekeeping.’  Maybe soon.

Aside from the boxes and frames, the most important thing Mike is doing is keeping bees treatment free.  His bees are treated with nothing, absolutely nothing.  He is the most visible and vocal proponent of treatment free beekeeping, and he has shown for years that it works and even works on a large scale.

For those of you that have been asking for Mike to write a book, never fear.
 It will soon be here.  He’s spent a lot of time organizing what he’s written online into book form.  You can still find the vast majority of it online though, and he’s happy to tell you that.  But, there’s nothing like having something solid in your hands to read.  I was helping him proofread it this week, and it is quite good.  Look for it in hardback soon and in a three part ‘beginner, intermediate, advanced’ paperback edition as well.

Mike was kind enough to host me and another beekeeper this week.  He put up a tipi for us to stay in.  I enjoyed it.  Here he is putting it up.
Here is the finished product.
It was a great opportunity to see Mike’s operation, as limited as it is in scope at this time.  Next year, he’s going to be ramping up into full time queen production.  His queens are expensive, but I’d say they’re well worth it and I plan to be proving it with my wallet.  Next year, I’m planning on going back and learning his queen rearing techniques.  Thanks again Mike! 

Oh, one last thing.  The area around Mike's place is beautiful.  I mean, other than the corn and soy beans.